THE STEPPE AND THE SPIRIT

leonid-kutsenkoA country can be best known by its province, not by the capital city. Those who live in Yorkshire villages represent England in a way which is more in sync with English traditional culture and history than, say, the population of London can represent it. The same is true about my Ukraine. I thought about it yesterday when I was attending a function at a pedagogical university in the city of Kropyvnytskyi. That social gathering was honoring the memory of the university’s professor Leonid Kutsenko who had tragically died ten years ago. I knew Leonid from the time when he was a second-year student in the 1970s at the same university. He was a very charismatic person – he was, what may be called “a man of passion.” His charisma combined with his sharp intellect, vehement quest for knowledge and (as it was sometimes said behind his back) his “abnormal” integrity. Leonid didn’t hesitate to voice what he really thought about a person or an event. Surprisingly, this “non-diplomatic” stand was an asset that attracted many people to him.

However, the chief feature of Leonid Kutsenko’s character was the love of his “small motherland.” He was born in the Ukrainian steppe, he knew the steppe and he could speak about it for hours. Once, both of us were going in a car along an endless road in southern Ukraine. I was driving the car and Leonid was in the passenger seat. Tirelessly, he was telling me a history of every village we were going through, and about outstanding personalities who were born here and later made these parts famous. Incidentally, our steppe (meaning the people) has always been independently minded. It had its own rebellious mentality which neither the Russian czars not the communist leaders could root out. The names of the cossack Ivan Sirko (17th century), or of the rebels Taras Triasylo (17th century), Maksym Zaliznyak and Ivan Honta (18th century), Nestor Makhno (20th century) are known practically to every Ukrainian. As I was listening to Leonid in the car, we missed a point where we had to turn off from the main road and we went on ahead for another hour and then had to make a U-turn and ride back. But I wasn’t in the least sorry for the time lost or petrol wasted because there was no loss or waste – I had heard a wonderfully passionate lecture of a scholar who knew his country and who was proud of it.

Much later, during Gorbachev’s “perestroika”, Leonid Kutsenko was able to travel to the Czech Republic, France and the U.S.A. where he worked in the archives and gathered much valuable material about the Ukrainian refugee writers who had fled the communist regime in the 1920s and in the 1940s. Actually, it was he who discovered for the present-day generations of Ukrainians the name of Yevhen Malaniuk whom the Russian propaganda had labeled “nationalist” and had always tried to hush up his name.

Incidentally, the other day I watched a video with a Russian military expert talking about the next stage of the war in Ukraine (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-CY5c6xZVvo ). Mikhail Aleksandrov spoke about, as he put it, a Syrian variant for my country: a large-scale offensive must start, he said, supported by the Russian aviation and long-range systems (rockets, cruise missiles, Iskander missiles). They will destroy the main Ukrainian infrastructure, communication centers, command centers, air-defense systems, heavy weaponry. And on the destroyed positions, where mostly the infantry is left with light weapons, the Donbas forces will advance. They basically will clean the territory from the remnants of the Ukrainian army, the expert concluded.

At the function, the university professors took the floor, reminisced about their former colleague, and at one point I thought that it won’t be so easy for Putin or Aleksandrov to crush Ukraine, even with the fifth column referred to in Aleksandrov’s video interview. The matter is that each of Kutsenko’s colleagues had very much the same spine as Leonid Kutsenko or Yevhen Malaniuk once had. And very much the same passion that has been growing throughout centuries in this rebellious Ukrainian steppe.

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